Seven Questions for Dr. Monique Bell, Researcher, Educator & Wine Industry Leader
Dr. Monique Bell is an educator, researcher, creator, and consultant in California’s San Joaquin Valley. She is curious about how cultural facets, such as race, ethnicity, language, and values how both influence and are influenced by marketing. As a professor at Fresno State and a wine industry consultant, she enjoys providing engaging learning experiences for diverse students, exploring the implications and intersections of marketing and culture, and collaborating to create meaningful brand artifacts and experiences.
Q1: You were named a 2021 Wine Industry Leader by Wine Business Monthly for your research and reporting on challenges for black wine entrepreneurs. Congrats! What was the impetus for this research, and what did you discover?
A: I was not really knowledgeable about or in tune with wine as a consumer, but I attended an event in Oakland, California, called the Black Vines Festival, for my birthday almost six years ago. I had never been exposed to an experience like that before—meeting black professionals, black consumers, and black business owners in the wine industry. So, it just stuck with me, and I wanted to know more about it.
When I was able to apply for a sabbatical, I made that my research focus. I conducted more than 40 interviews. The report is called The Terroir Noir: 2020 Study of Black Wine Entrepreneurs. Zoom was my best friend during the fall of 2020! I also surveyed about a hundred or so black wine entrepreneurs as part of my research.
In a nutshell, what I found is that there needs to be broader awareness because even with a vineyard on my campus, it never occurred to me that there would be multicultural or black contributions in the wine space. Access to financial lending was the number one problem that these multicultural and black entrepreneurs faced, and I think that could be the case for many who didn’t get their winery or vineyard passed down through their families. It’s a resource-intensive, financially-intensive endeavor. The core challenges are access to capital lending, funding, and distribution, but I think what makes it different for black wine entrepreneurs is the extra systemic layer of discrimination and bias also disadvantaging them.
Q2: How have wine marketing and the wine industry traditionally been influenced by ethnicity and other cultural factors?
A: What I found, and I think what most people have found up until about 2020, is there was really a lack of inclusion, a lack of diversity. Hence, probably why I had the perception that wine really wasn’t a place for me as a consumer or even as a business owner. What I found about the industry and its marketing practices was that it really wasn’t inclusive. There wasn’t diverse representation when you’re talking about promotions. So, as far as what you see in advertisements and other promotions, as well as actually targeting consumers, there wasn’t much of an effort to be inclusive.
I did hear a story on NPR that talked about Manischewitz and their connection to the black community, which was really interesting. So, I hold that up as an example of one way in which wine marketing briefly appeared to be inclusive and engaging. I think they had Sammy Davis, Jr., as a spokesperson, so he checked the boxes of being Jewish and black! That was a really interesting find, but I think definitely before I was born.
So, we’ve seen, and other researchers have found, that it’s mainly been spirits that have been working toward attracting black consumers, and even thinking about Hispanic and Latinx consumers, there hasn’t been much inclusion when it comes to marketing. Hopefully, that’s changing based on the data out there—whether you want to or not, whether you feel it’s morally right to do it financially or whatever. It just makes sense to start engaging these audiences.
Q3: In what ways have you seen greater awareness and support for black wine entrepreneurs since you completed your historic study back in 2020?
A: I think there’s a greater sense of community. When I first took on this research, I was just piecing it together. I would find a black entrepreneur within the wine industry, and I was like, “Struck gold. I found another one!” So, it was kind of very piecemeal, but fortunately, I think there’s a greater sense of community now so that they’re starting to know each other. Plus, the organization that helped me, the Association of African American Vintners, has done a lot of work toward building that community so that there is one central place where they can both find each other and others can find them, too.
I think that has been a great improvement since 2020, and there’s a lot of collaboration. I think overall, in the wine industry, there’s this idea of collaboration and co-opetition. So, even if someone could be considered your competitor, you’re still helping them. There’s a better sense of community, better awareness, more interest in the industry and associations for learning about diversity and asking how to be more inclusive.
Q4: In addition to your role as a tenured professor of marketing at Fresno State University, you launched Wyne Belle in 2021. Tell us about Wyne Belle.
A: It’s a work in progress. I’m still figuring out what I want to do and why. I’ve had a lot of success on the research side and consulting side—more business-to-business consulting. I’ve worked with Uncorked & Cultured, where we’ve delivered wine marketing, diversity consulting, and education for wineries. So, that’s the business-to-business side. It’s more about continuing to collect the data, give information, and share what I’ve learned.
On the other side, I’ve discovered a passion for wine, so I just want to know everything about it, and I want to share everything about it with everyone. I’m looking to start delivering wine experiences—in person and virtual—and one of my goals at the moment is to have a mobile wine bar that can be used at events.
Q5: You partnered with Uncorked and Cultured to create the SIP Consciously Directory to highlight BIPOC contributions in the wine industry. In what ways can consumers and the industry play in supporting diversity and inclusion across all sectors?
A: I think some organizations, including Napa Valley Vintners, are doing a great job as far as financial support. At every point in the wine product life cycle if there could be more support for multiculturalism and wine. So, starting with the students, getting them interested in wine, giving them scholarships, and helping them form their businesses. For example, the Association of African American Vintners is offering grants to those who already have businesses. They’re offering grants to help them sustain and even grow their businesses.
I think on the distribution side, we need more engagement with these entrepreneurs overall as an industry. I think just more engagement, being willing to take a tough look, self-reflecting on your organization or even your team, and saying, “What are we doing?”
Thinking back to 2020, when there was all of this attention and focus, particularly on black Americans, black consumers, and black business owners, how have we grown since then? What have we done, or what could we do to make sure that our business is inclusive and diverse? Are we hiring or contracting with the folks that can help us and support us in being more inclusive and diverse?
I think all the data is there. I think the consumers are ready. It’s really up to the industry just to start engaging. Don’t think about barriers, and don’t think you have to do everything at once. Just do some self-reflection and say, “Well, what can we do this year? What can we do in five years?” And just start taking those leaps and doing it.
Q6: What advice do you have for Black entrepreneurs wanting to enter the wine industry?
A: Connect with those who have already gone through or pursued what you are interested in. Gain from their knowledge and gain from their mistakes. What I learned from interviewing more than 40 folks is that they are willing to share, mentor, and collaborate. So, definitely engage those who are where you want to be. Really understand the business aspect because wine, of course, can seem very romantic and fun, but you really need to know the business side and the investment that needs to be made. You have to be prepared with that knowledge.
Beyond that, I would say go for it. Yeah, I think just go for it and continue to engage with your peers, mentors, and organizations like the Association for African American Vintners and you’ll be successful.
Q7: What’s next for you, Monique?
A: That is interesting. I’m in the thick of conducting more interviews right now. So, I am going to be putting together both a summary of the last interviews as well as, once these interviews are done, putting together a longitudinal of what’s changed since 2020. I’ll be publishing academically about wine and wine business.
I’ve been invited to a wine conference in Germany, to speak about wine in a section called Against All Odds, where I’ll be talking about Black Americans in wine. I’ll be teaching an MBA-level wine marketing management course in a study abroad session in Dijon and Paris, so MBA students can learn about wine from the mobile marketing and business side.